Promising to “put protection of the environment at the center of my presidency,” Vice Pres. Al Gore said yesterday that he would spend $2 billion over 10 years to combat urban sprawl and preserve open space if he were elected president. Gore, speaking at a fundraiser in Malibu, Calif., proposed offering $1 billion in tax cuts to landowners who transfer private land to conservation and an additional $1 billion to cities and states to create local parks. He would pay for the plan by charging mining companies fees for extracting minerals from public lands, which would require changing the 1872 Mining Law, something enviros have long been pressing for. Meanwhile, many people living along California’s central coast are fearful of runaway development, and a number of city councils in the area are imposing building moratoriums. Projections show that California’s population is likely to grow to about 59 million by 2040, up from about 34 million today, which will only make sprawl problems more difficult to tackle.